I recently spoke to a group of chief legal officers about the challenges they face and innovative ways to address those challenges. Our discussion that day and the conversations that we have had since prompted me to share some of the points from the presentation and, more importantly, some of the insights gleaned from our conversations afterwards.
I wholeheartedly believe that currently in-house legal departments face a unique challenge caused by the convergence of two key trends. The first is that on average the demand for legal services in most areas is increasing. The in-house legal department has more on its plate this year than last year, and there is no reason to believe that the need for legal services will plateau or decline in the next 18-24 months. Secondly, in spite of the increased need for legal services, on average most budgets for legal services are decreasing. The in-house legal department is being asked to do more work than last year, but is being given fewer resources to do so. These two trends converge to create a nightmarish scenario in which there are more fires to deal with, but less water with which to put them out. In the parlance of the presentation, we talked about this challenge as doing even more with even less.
In fact, for all of the complex, high tech solutions out there, sometimes the most effective technologies are relatively simplistic. I firmly believe that a comprehensive legal project management (LPM) program can be the most effective way to get more for your money. By employing LPM as part of the overall strategy for everything that outside counsel does, you (and your outside counsel) become more adept at spotting inefficiencies in workflows and eliminating waste. This reduction in waste frees them to do more work for the in-house legal department, but takes less time overall. But just implementing the program is the first step of a truly transformative process. Over time, the LPM regime allows for metric tracking, built-in quality control measures and increased focus on customer satisfaction, as well as actually tracking what customers think about the delivery of services. Some in the profession are already doing this, and I applaud their efforts and hope they will continue to reap the benefits of these programs.
What struck me in the conversations I was having was the number of in-house lawyers who were struggling to get such programs implemented, or having problems getting outside counsel to adhere to the program. We have to put our money where our collective mouth is: If we truly want to get more done with less, then we have to demand the tools necessary to accomplish that goal. In-house legal departments are consumers of legal services, and believe me, there are hundreds of law firms that not only want to do your work, but are more than capable of doing it for less than you are currently paying. Remember that, especially in this economic environment, the consumer truly is empowered to demand the services it needs, and not just take the services that are offered.